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Movie Mom

Manic Pixie Dream Girls — Christy LeMire’s Top Five

posted by Nell Minow

I am so happy that Christy Lemire, former movie critic for AP, now has her own website and I look forward to checking in often to see what she has to say.  One of her first posts is about the popular concept of the “manic pixie dream girl,” first described in those terms by critic Nathan Rabin in discussing the Kirsten Dunst character in the Cameron Crowe film, “Elizabethtown.”  This is the female character who represents the Life Force, adorkably quirky and given to spontaneous outbursts and impulsive childlike whims.

I’m not as bothered by the manic pixie dream girl as some people.  For one thing, the idea of a Life Force changing the direction of a play-by-the-rules type has been around as long as there have been stories.  The conflict between characters representing the id and superego has been played out endlessly, going back to ancient myths and fairy tales.  Screwball comedies like “Bringing Up Baby” and “Nothing Sacred” are classic examples, and yet no one calls Katharine Hepburn or Carole Lombard manic pixie dream girls.  Of course there are manic pixie dream boys as well — think of William Holden in “Picnic,” Melvin Douglas in “Ninotchka” and “Theodora Goes Wild,” and Burt Lancaster in “The Rainmaker.” Even the dull Vince Vaughn movie “The Internship” this summer featured a Life Spirit character who had to show the overly serious Rose Byrne how to find joy in life.

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And I’d much rather watch a manic pixie dream girl than her far less interesting counterpart, the arrested development boy-man so often portrayed by Adam Sandler and the entire Judd Apatow repertory company.  Vince Vaughn’s “Internship” character counts twice because he was also in the arrested development category. Even worse is the female character often matched with those perpetual pubescents, the  thankless role of the “Johnny, when will you grow up?” nanny/schoolmarm types. I felt very bad for Mila Kunis in “Ted,” a very talented comic actress who was relegated to that overdone character.

Christy Lemire lists five of her favorite manic pixie dream girls.  Mine include Jane Fonda in “Barefoot in the Park,” Katharine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby,” Goldie Hawn in “Cactus Flower” and “Butterflies are Free,” Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Stranger than Fiction” (bonus points for making her not so stereotypically free-spirited that she can’t still be a meticulous and organized small business owner), and Barbara Stanwyck in “The Lady Eve.”

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Nathan Rabain apologizes for coining the term here.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Toby Clark

    On this subject, the Haruhi Suzumiya light novels by Nagaru Tanigawa and subsequent anime adaptation are worth a look, though its brand of comedic sociopathy, especially her behaviour toward Mikuru, isn’t for all tastes.

    • Nell Minow

      I am intrigued by the concept of comedic sociopathy, but I suppose all disrupters have that subversive anarchic quality. Thanks, Toby!

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